SWOT Analysis of the Australian Musical

Please note: A paper written as a preamble to this SWOT can be found on the Knowledge Base under the title ‘Musical Theatre in Australia’. It provides additional useful background and is recommended reading.


PREMISE

In June, 2017 composer, and then co-director of Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Eddie Perfect took to twitter to respond to the recent Helpmann Award nominations: “Australian musical theatre is in real crisis … we have a multi-million dollar commercial industry with negligible interest in developing our own works.” (The Advertiser, 21 June 2017)


It is clear from the LPA Survey 2016 that indeed we do have a sector that attracts an audience of 3.3 million music theatre-loving patrons generating $347.7 million in ticket sale revenue (out-numbering both the theatre and opera sectors combined). Perfect was reacting to the fact that the Helpmann Award nominations in the music theatre category was dominated by imported shows, talent and creatives. Ultimately, his point was: “Australia needs to start making musicals before any awards can be won for them.’’


The focus of this SWOT Analysis is not the state of the industry, but rather a survey of the creation, development and production of Australian Musicals within the sector.


The West End and Broadway represents the pinnacle of commercial theatre (especially musicals) in Great Britain and the United States respectively. Each is a metropolis with established theatrical and production infrastructure and support services; each has a large permanent audience base and a significant cultural tourism influx; there are also recognised and respected theatrical networks (production companies, theatres and festivals) and creative development processes whose objectives are to nurture and progress work to reach their optimum commercial-ready productions in Shaftesbury Avenue or ‘the Great White Way”. Major provincial, national and international touring productions, subsequently, have traditionally emanated from successful, award-winning seasons in each of these capitals. In both these theatrical ecosystems, new work and revivals share equal emphasis.


The Australian musical landscape, on the other hand, has no similar industrial centre nor infrastructure. Traditionally, major international commercial projects compete with the State Governments of either Victoria or NSW to stage premieres in either Melbourne or Sydney, but a state capital touring circuit eventually follows. There are no established and strategic musical theatre networks, nor recognised development processes that have commercial performance outcomes, nor any form of ongoing, integrated, symbiotic relationships.


What has evolved are five silos operating, seemingly independently, within the overall musical theatre sector.


  1. The Studio Musical
  2. The Bijou Musical
  3. The Boulevarde Musical
  4. The Commercial Musical
  5. The Arena Musical Spectacular


This SWOT analysis considers the parameters of each (based on creative, economic and logistic considerations) and specifically responds to the development and production of the Australian musical as the art form approaches its centenary in this country.

1. THE STUDIO MUSICAL

Theatres: Hayes Theatre, The Stables, Chapel off Chapel, BlueRoom, Visy Theatre,Billie Brown Studio, Wharf II, Beckett Theatre, The Lawler


Venue size: 50-250 seats


Recent Musicals: The Detective’s Handbook[1] (2015), Melba[1] (2017)


Cast size: 3-5


Orchestra: Piano and/or small ensemble (1-3 players)


STRENGTHS

  1. relatively low-risk development opportunities with performance outcomes; promotes and provides opportunity for new writing;
  2. training ground for fledgling producers, creatives and performers;
  3. time-rich for long development & rehearsal process
  4. industry and audience good will;
  5. theatrical circumstances favour the ‘intimate’ experience; emphasis on content (book, lyrics and score) over form and spectacle;
  6. encourages the discourse around the concept of the ‘Australian musical’;
  7. growing Australian-made repertoire

WEAKNESSES

  1. limited box office income; poor remuneration (often co-op) for cast and creatives;
  2. limited scope for big themes and narrative; negligible scope for ‘spectacle’ or significant physical production values (including choreography); small cast size;
  3. orchestra limited (usually piano); limited opportunity to develop full score and exercise process of orchestration;
  4. paucity of suitable producers, financial resource and infrastructure;
  5. experience of participants; subsequent dramaturgical and musical quality control;
  6. inadequate budget for cast recording

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. enthusiastic and generous circumstance for audience development;
  2. scale of cast and production agreeable to interstate and regional touring; easy upgrade to s2m organisation delivery;
  3. process development potential; capacity for project to grow and improve in scale (both form and content);
  4. production easily, and economically, modified for presentation on alternative viewing platforms;
  5. showcase for all creatives for larger scale project commissions;
  6. investment opportunity at grass roots level

THREATS

  1. lack of faith in Australian musicals by regional, and other venue ‘presenters’ and/or audiences;
  2. cynicism associated with the independent ‘co-op’ presentation model;
  3. competition from already available and established international musicals of this scale;
  4. lack of pro-bono creative and administrative expertise and/or educational institutional creative development infrastructure to foster new work;
  5. creatives’ frustration and fatigue

2. THE BIJOU MUSICAL

Venue: Belvoir Upstairs, Ensemble Theatre, Cremorne Theatre, Space Theatre, Subiaco Arts Centre Theatre, Studio Underground, Wharf I, Powerhouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, ACV Fairfax Studio, Dunstan Playhouse, Heath Ledger Theatre, The Sumner; range of Performing Arts Centres (PAC) nationally


Venue size: 250-650 seats


Recent Musicals: Keating![1] (2006), Shane Warne: The Musical[1] (2008), Metro Street[1] (2009) Rose and Rodeo[1] (2015), Joh for PM[1] (2017)


Cast size: 5-8


Orchestra size: 3-5


This scale of musical traditionally emerges from boutique commercial producers, performing arts venues or from the subsidised small-to-medium (s2m) organisational cohort.


STRENGTHS

  1. professional development engagement for all creatives; building skills-base;
  2. sound dramaturgy and musical scrutiny for new work through workshop and rehearsal;
  3. repertoire given industry status through established subscription programs; strong audience development and out-reach;
  4. experienced event & production, publicity & marketing skills base available;
  5. risk-friendly & supportive environment;
  6. tour-ready and flexible production scale;
  7. musical score development for small live ensemble;
  8. emerging repertoire in revival potential

WEAKNESSES

  1. inexperience in facilitation of music theatre work generally in s2m sector;
  2. undermines drama-subscriber audience expectation;
  3. stress of process on infrastructure of s2m scale company;
  4. time-poor for workshop development and rehearsal;
  5. meagre production and marketing budget;
  6. minimal capacity for ‘spectacle’ and choreography;
  7. awkward choice between acoustic and enhanced sound in size of venue;
  8. sporadic nature musicals mounted

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. scale of cast and production agreeable to interstate and regional touring or small scale commercial enterprise; easy upgrade to ‘Boulevarde’ MPAC delivery;
  2. process development potential; capacity for project to grow and improve in scale (both form and content);
  3. production easily, and economically, modified for presentation on alternative viewing platforms & for broadcast; scale enables live-cast recording;
  4. showcase for all creatives for larger scale project commissions;

THREATS

  1. lack of support by funding agencies (national and state) for inclusion of ‘musicals’ in s2m theatre seasons;
  2. perceived audience or presenter resistance to untested Australian creative content;
  3. competition of the ‘music theatre’ audience from Boulevarde and Commercial; strain on available entertainment-dollar in search of ‘value-for-money productions with more sophisticated musical and production values;
  4. inadequate audience exposure to attack sufficient sponsorship;
  5. perceived lack of regularity and commitment to musicals in the sector

3. THE BOULEVARD MUSICAL

Venue: SOH Drama Theatre, QPAC Playhouse, His Majesty’s Theatre, VAC Playhouse, Roslyn Packer Theatre, Comedy Theatre, Athenaeum Theatre


Venue size: 650-1200 seats; range of Performing Arts Centres nationally


Recent Musicals: The Sapphires[2] (2004), Ladies In Black[1] (2016), Muriel’s Wedding[1] (2017)


Cast size: 5-8 principals; 6-8 ensemble


Orchestra size: 6-10


This scale of musical traditionally emerges from members of the subsidised Major Performing Arts Companies (MPAC) e.g. Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre.


STRENGTHS

  1. high level, experienced professional development engagement for all creatives; exploiting skills-base;
  2. high level expertise in dramaturgy and musical preparation for new work through workshop and rehearsal;
  3. subsidised environment/production scale supports commissions & risk on new work
  4. opportunity to create fully orchestrated score for medium ensemble of players;
  5. enterprise supports larger narratives and themes; untiles chorus; provision of substantial physical production spectacle, including choreography and new technology

WEAKNESSES

  1. season choices often favour ‘safe’ revivals of international repertoire over original local musicals;
  2. risk-sensitive; favours ‘juke box’ musical content over original score;
  3. additional pressure on administration and production workshop in addition to regular season delivery;
  4. extensions, turn-arounds & tour options problematic within larger season structure;
  5. lack of commercial, entrepreneurial imperative;
  6. short seasons

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. Australian audiences’ growing engagement with musical theatre;
  2. producing partnerships with Commercial Musical sector; share season repertoire with other MPAC;
  3. ‘Live transmission’ broadcast to regional PACs;
  4. sponsorship partners to commission, stage/revive and consolidate an ‘Australian Musicals’ repertoire;
  5. expanding options for alternative presenting platforms (screen; on-line etc);
  6. cast recording for national and international distribution;

THREATS

  1. marketing spend, ‘spectacle’ and ‘star power’ of Commercial Musical sector;
  2. tested, popular international repertoire;
  3. lack of direct support by funding agencies (national and state) for inclusion of ‘musicals’ in MPAC theatre and opera seasons;
  4. perceived poor cost/benefit ratio;
  5. resistance by ‘drama’ or ‘opera’ subscriber audience;
  6. perceived standards and quality of production (compared to Commercial sector, by local critics and arts commentators;
  7. lack of interest, or faith, in the genre, by artistic directors, boards and MPAC sponsors

4. THE COMMERCIAL MUSICAL

Venue: QPAC Lyric Theatre, VAC State Theatre, Adelaide Festival Theatre, Capitol Theatre, Sydney Lyric Theatre, Princess Theatre, Regent Theatre, Her Majesty’s Theatre, Crown Theatre


Venue size: 1200+


Recent Musicals: Shout! The Legend of The Wild One[2] (2001), Eureka[1] (2004), Dusty - The Original Pop Diva[2] (2006), Priscilla, Queen of the Desert[2] (2008), King Kong (2013), Strictly Ballroom[2] (2015), Dream Lover - The Bobby Darren Musical[2] (2016), Georgie Girl[2] (2016)


Cast size: 6-10 principals, 8-12 ensemble


Orchestra size: 10-18


This scale of musical is traditionally independently commercially produced (or consortium) and investor driven; or an independent commercial producer in partnership with a MPAC member e.g. The Frost Organisation/Opera Australia


STRENGTHS

  1. a small number of experienced, influential and successful ‘award-winning’ producers, with national and international networks; tried national touring circuit;
  2. large cohort of experienced, international-standard performing and creative talent; promotion of local talent;
  3. impressive standard of musicianship available for pit orchestras;
  4. large and dedicated audience base with diverse musical tastes; significant tourist and entertainment-dollar income stream;
  5. the sector highly regarded internationally for touring and production investment;

WEAKNESSES

  1. lack of commitment to commissioning, developing or presenting Australian musicals (especially with original scores);
  2. lack of repertoire balance in favour of presenting Broadway and West End musicals and revivals over Australian work;
  3. neglect of local creatives;
  4. lack of availability, and number, of suitable theatres in major centres (eg Perth/Sydney)
  5. Creatives Royalty and other musical-based income streams heading off-shore;
  6. lack of coherent industrial & physical production infrastructure; industry leadership;

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. international touring strategies, especially same-time-zone Asian markets, for locally produced musicals (both international and local product); Australia as a ‘production hub’ for Australasian touring network;
  2. Peak Body representing the Sector
  3. creation of dedicated, coordinated & integrated industry for the sector: physical production, arts/stage management & technology services; rehearsal space etc
  4. national and international multi-platform delivery of productions;
  5. levy on ticket sales to support new musicals development

THREATS

  1. volatility of Global financial markets on investment & on entertainment spending;
  2. major international producers and franchises dominating the Australian market;
  3. lack of strategic career paths for new producers;
  4. expanding range of alternative entertainment genres and delivery platforms available;
  5. lack of narrative engagement and thematic influence on discourse around Australian cultural identity and the politics of cultural diversity;

5. THE ARENA-MUSICAL

Theatres: Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Perth Arena, Qudos Bank Arena, Rod Laver Arena, Titanium Security Arena


Recent Musicals: Boy from Oz Arena Spectacular (2006); Jesus Christ Superstar - the Arena Spectacular (2013); Grease - The Arena Experience (2017)


Cast: 8-12+ principals, 12+ ensemble


Orchestra: 18-30+


STRENGTHS

  1. high level event management, producing, marketing and merchandising skills;
  2. available ‘star performers’ and ‘big vision’ creative talent;
  3. incorporation of state-of-the-art technologies (especially sound, lighting/projection and scenic spectacle); and, advanced staging techniques (including choreography) unitising large casts; thrilling theatrical scale;
  4. audience outreach and development;
  5. special, high impact ‘special event’
  6. partnerships with Government (including Tourism) and major Civic Corporations;

WEAKNESSES

  1. greater emphasis on ‘form’ over ‘content’; technology and spectacle over narrative detail and intimacy;
  2. quality control (becomes risk or ‘crisis’ management);
  3. revival and ‘up-scaling’ of already established and popular repertoire; new work extremely high risk;
  4. audience/industry cynicism (especially when using volunteer performers or young performers paying for ‘the experience’;
  5. sporadic productions

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. national arts and cultural tourism;
  2. international touring, especially featuring original Australian material; cultural export;
  3. international platform for Australian performers and creatives;
  4. levy on ticket sales to support new musicals development;
  5. live broadcast & other multi-platform delivery options

THREATS

  1. volatility of Global financial markets on investment & on entertainment spending;
  2. major international producers and franchises dominating the Australian market;
  3. high profile concert tours by celebrity pop-stars;
  4. venue availability; competition from sporting fixtures and conferences;
  5. repetition and over-supply;
  6. volume of ticket sales and ongoing issues with on-line sales technology; ‘scalping’;
  7. precarious transport infrastructure to and from venue;

SUMMATION - THE MUSICALS SECTOR

STRENGTHS

  1. experienced, internationally well-connected producers;
  2. sector internally recognised for excellence for both triple-threat calibre of performer and quality of creative talent;
  3. enthusiastic, dedicated and loyal audiences;
  4. high musical standards;
  5. integration of new technologies;
  6. tertiary training options

WEAKNESSES

  1. training and career path options for producers;
  2. neglect of locally written musicals; particularly original scores (and opportunity to orchestrate for large ensembles); lack of development options
  3. Australian creatives in key production roles;
  4. insufficient sector leadership & engagement between silos in the sector;
  5. need to establish Peak Body

OPPORTUNITIES

  1. Australasian & international touring, especially featuring original Australian material; cultural export;
  2. national and international multi-platform delivery of productions;
  3. creation of dedicated, coordinated & integrated industry for the sector: physical production, arts/stage management & technology services; rehearsal space etc for both national and international producers

THREATS

  1. volatility of Global financial markets on investment & on entertainment spending;
  2. major international producers and franchises dominating the Australian market;
  3. expanding range of alternative entertainment genres and delivery platforms available;
  4. paucity of arts criticism and commentary, and stimulation of national Arts & Cultural discourse

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Original Score
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Juke-Box Musical


Author

John Senczuk

Date November 2 2017

Share your opinion